On Tuesday, Supreme Court justices fought intensely over whether the White House is permitted to inquire about citizenship in the 2020 census, and conservative judges appeared to be in favor of allowing the Trump administration to do so, CNN reports.
Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, after over an hour and a half of heated debate and interruptions among all of the justices and counsel, suggested that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is legally allowed to add the question.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the citizenship question is a "common question" in other countries' censuses, and Chief Justice John Roberts posed questions that seemed to favor the Trump administration.
THe four liberal justices, however, criticized the White House's argument and suggested that the question would reduce the number of responses to the survey.Justice Stephen Breyer inquired why Ross overruled the deliberation of census officials in his decision.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared the most skeptical of the Trump administration’s motives. She asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco why the inquiry into citizenship status was going to be asked now after being left off for some “65 odd years.” She argued that there was "no doubt" that non-citizens and their households would be less willing to respond.
The case highlights the political divide between the new conservative court majority and the liberal minority.
The Constitution mandates that every person in the country be accounted for every 10 years. The census gives the government crucial data that is leveraged for a variety of key issues ranging from congressional seat allocation to federal funding distribution to states and counties. Critics argue that the question, which has not been asked nationwide since 1950, would decrease the number of responses by the millions.
"There is just one chance, each decade to get the enumeration right," said New York Attorney General Letitia James in court papers. The addition of the question not only violates the Administrative Procedure Act, James said, but also the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause that requires the complete account of the population. Adding the question would "affirmatively undermine the accuracy of the enumeration."